Ocean processes underlying surface clustering

Gregg A. Jacobs, Helga S. Huntley, A. D. Kirwan, Bruce L. Lipphardt, Timothy Campbell, Travis Smith, Kacey Edwards, Brent Bartels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Ageostrophic ocean processes such as frontogenesis, submesoscale mixed-layer instabilities, shelf break fronts, and topographic interactions on the continental shelf produce surface-divergent flows that affect buoyant material over time. This study examines the ocean processes leading to clustering, i.e., the increase of material density over time, on the ocean surface. The time series of divergence along a material trajectory, the Lagrangian divergence (LD), is the flow property driving clustering. To understand the impacts of various ocean processes on LD, numerical ocean model simulations at different resolutions are analyzed. Although the relevant processes differ, patterns in clustering evolution from the deep ocean and the continental shelf bear similarities. Smaller-scale ocean features are associated with stronger surface divergence, and the surface material clustering is initially dominated by these features. Over time, the effect of these small-scale features becomes bounded, as material traverses small-scale regions of both positive and negative divergence. Lower-frequency flow phenomena, however, continue the clustering. As a result, clustering evolves from initial small-scale to larger-scale patterns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)180-197
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Oceanography
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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